Is the Race for Sports Betting Dead in NJ?

Avatar Updated on April 22, 2014

March Madness is ending and so goes another chance for Atlantic City to cash in on the lucrative sports betting market. Not only for the wagering but for the customers that will be brought into this struggling gambling town.

Sports betting is legal in one way or another in four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Since 2009 NJ has been actively trying to overturn the ban on sports betting and give it an edge on neighboring gaming states.

Interested parties recently held court at the iconic “Irish Pub” in Atlantic City NJ. Well known Atlantic City political leaders like Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Atlantic City could host March Madness and super bowl events the way Las Vegas can with their mega sports book centers. “We need to create a level playing field, let’s recognize the hypocrisy”, Former Atlantic City Mayor and current State Senator, Jim Whelan said. “It’s unfair only four states are allowed to have sports betting.”

Last March Las Vegas showed a 98% occupancy rate while the casinos took in over $100 million in sports bets. March Madness brings in a much needed boost to the Las Vegas economy during a traditionally slow period for vacation travel.

New Jersey has been trying to overturn the federal law banning sports betting since 2009, when a state lawmaker sued the federal government over the ban. This led to Governor Christie signing a sports book measure to allow state racetracks and Atlantic City casinos to have the ability to take wagers.

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In reality, New Jersey dropped the ball back in 1992 when the state legislature failed to capitalize on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. This Act effectively outlawed sports betting nationwide except in a few states. Congress did leave a one year window of opportunity from the effective date of the bill for states which operated licensed casino gaming from the previous ten year period to pass laws permitting sports wagering. New Jersey never took the chance and now that neighboring states have casinos of their own, it’s coming back to haunt the Atlantic City casinos.

 

The Court of Appeals for the Third circuit in Philadelphia recently ruled 2 to 1 against New Jersey’s attempt to offer wagering on college and professional sports. The judges ruled that New Jersey’s law permitting sports betting violated the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Now after several attempts NJ is waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case.

“We thought from the very beginning, we‘d end up in the Supreme Court,” State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said. Sweeney believes New Jersey has a 50% chance of the Supreme Court taking on the case and that he expected that it may take this level of jurisprudence for sports betting in NJ to happen.

NJ is arguing that there is no direct federal law that stops individuals from wagering on sports. The state is arguing that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 makes it unlawful for a government agency to license or authorize any kind of wagering activity. So when you take this into account, New Jersey is saying that Congress has no authority to regulate sports betting, it’s a state matter. New Jersey isn’t alone, other states like Rhode Island and Missouri have tried to assemble bills that question PASPA and its authority at the state level.

New Jersey has been hit hard by neighboring states that have legalized gaming over the last few years. A state run Tourism commission was set up in 2011 to combat the effects of out of state casinos by marketing NJ as a destintnation that was more than just gaming. So far there are mixed results and the gaming numbers continue to decline according to New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement statistics.

For now, it’s waiting game to see if the Supreme Court picks up the case. New Jersey politicians have put in a good fight to make sports betting a reality in New Jersey.  Timing is critical as more border states continue to develop more casinos for NJ to compete against.

Anything that can help bring in customers to Atlantic City is welcome. Atlantic City’s recently elected Mayor Don Guardian  believes if sports betting is legalized, the shops and restaurants in the city will benefit as well. It’s part of his plan in reviving the sluggish Atlantic City economy.

“We’re very confident that if the Supreme Court takes this case,” said NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney. “It’s a slam dunk, we win.” Let’s hope so, for Atlantic City’s sake, the town is long due for win after years of struggling against the local competition. Sports betting may be the edge Atlantic City needs to stay afloat.

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